Microsoft: $99 and we'll de-crud your Windows PC

A little-known Microsoft program to banish crapware from new Windows PCs has come under the spotlight, with the so-called Signature machine scheme offering a shortcut to a cleaner computing experience. The company's efforts to streamline Windows have often put it directly up against its own OEM partners, who milk a little extra profit from each PC sold by cutting deals with software vendors to preload trials and general crapware. Little do most users know, however, that for an extra $99 there's another option.

Operational for the past few years, but little publicized, the Microsoft Signature program offers "clean" versions of Windows PCs from its own Microsoft stores and online store. Generally identical to the branded PCs sold elsewhere by the same vendors, the big difference to the Signature models is that they come with none of the software customization by OEMs: instead, it's Windows how Microsoft envisaged it.

"Many new PCs come filled with lots of trialware and sample software that slows your computer down – removing all that is a pain, so we do it for you! Every PC the Microsoft Store sells is put on a software diet and performance is tuned to run the best it can. We call this process Microsoft Signature" Microsoft

The WSJ reports on the program, which as well as offering brand new Signature PCs, gives new owners who bought their computer elsewhere the option to bring it to a physical Microsoft store and pay $99 to have it de-cluttered.

"The Signature desktop, which is labeled "Microsoft Signature," features a picture of a sunset over a lake as its wallpaper. It contains no icons other than the recycling bin. The Taskbar contains only icons for Internet Explorer, the Explorer file browser, and Microsoft's free email, photo and moviemaking programs. The system tray, to the right of the Taskbar, contains only the bare minimum of items, such as the network and battery indicators" Walt Mossberg

Greater digging turned up no "optional" toolbars in Internet Explorer, no utility or settings apps from the OEMs themselves, and no trials for anti-virus or anti-malware apps. Instead, Microsoft loads its own Security Essentials program, which is free. Where apps are essential for particular elements of the PC's hardware, however, they're left in place. Testing showed start-up times were a little improved, but shutdown times were considerably quicker.

Although Mossberg comes away impressed by the Signature service, it's hard to escape the feeling that Microsoft should be insisting on this user-experience for all of its new owners. Whether OEMs would be willing to give up the extra income from selling off day-one access to the user's desktop looks unlikely, however.